Grandma/Grandpa taught me…

Sorry I’m late this week, folks!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Grandma/Grandpa taught me…

When you made it past the bushes with those white berries, up the porch adorned with red geraniums, and through the door, there was a hallway. To the left was the back room where the piano (and some plants) lived. To the right was the kitchen. Somewhere in that hallway, in that entryway, there was a pantry and a deep freezer (one of those big ones that you lift open, not the tall ones) where Grandma kept the dreamsicles.

Somehow, we managed to set up a card table in that small corner of Grandma Schmitzer’s house. And there we sat, with a big bowl of fresh green beans, carefully cutting them to be canned. I can still smell it—fresh green beans have a crisp, earthy smell (like clean dirt, if that were possible).

I can’t say that Grandma taught me how to can green beans, because I honestly only remember cutting them. I can’t even say that she taught me how to cut them. What I can tell you for sure is that it was something I did with my sisters, my mom, and my Grandma Schmitzer. It was something from another time—a time when vegetables were grown, not pulled out of the freezer; a time when society could respect a woman who cared for her home and her family rather than pursuing a career; a time when children were allowed to use knives without fear of them showing up in our backpacks at school.

Lessons don’t always come by way of words. Sometimes lessons come by involvement and experience. Sometimes lessons come by taking another by the hand and walking with them. Sometimes lessons come in remembering those moments when we felt most alive.

And that was when I felt most alive—that day, years ago, when I cut green beans with Grandma Schmitzer, Mom, and my sisters. The lesson? I don’t know. Perhaps the lesson is simply: Enjoy your time together.

And…don’t eat more green beans than you cut (Grandmas can always tell).

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

The best part of Autumn is…

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The best part of Autumn is…

It could be the colors, bold against the tame gray sky; or the cool, damp air that makes you shiver deep inside; or the hot drinks—the coffee, the cocoa, the cider—that gently calm those shivers one at a time until they subside; or the Lake (I swear She smells different this time of year) on a brisk afternoon as She crashes against the breakwall in Her fury (or joy—I’m not sure which); or the geese in perfect form as they head to their southern homes.

It could be that it’s time for school, and all the neighbor children play together as they wait for the bus; or that it’s almost time for a birthday—another year older!; or that Thanksgiving approaches and I have to find a fine selection of snowmen for your Grandma; or that it’s time to start binding journals for Christmas.

It could be the apples (oh, how I love them!), or the tomatoes, or the two stubborn strawberries that are still ripening this week in spite of the chill; or that first scent of snow, crisp, cold and unmistakable; or that first magical snow fall—a covenant of all that is yet to come—that makes us smile with wonder; or the cold that bites at your face, chasing away your breath as you gaze upon a clear night sky.

More than any other season, Autumn—to me—is an image of change. It is never exactly what it was the last time you looked. It is never exactly what you expect. It is always faster or slower than you want it to be. It is always, always, always on its own terms. The best we can do is enjoy the show, I think.

The same is true of life. It never happens the way we want or expect, but it always happens with color and fury (or joy…and joy) to mesmerize us, if we will but open our eyes. Even the difficult changes will, in the end, reveal a beautiful story of God’s love.

So what is the best part of Autumn? Well…Autumn is, of course!

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

My Grandma/Grandpa had the unusual habit of…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Grandma/Grandpa had the unusual habit of…

I can only think of one unusual thing any of my grandparents used to do—and I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it was unusual enough to earn its own Sunday Memory entry.

Every time I entered the room, every time he saw me, my Grandpa would raise his right hand above his head as if he was holding something and would ask me, “What am I?” The answer to the question, of course, was the Statue of Liberty. Every once in awhile, though, he would raise his left arm. Then, when he asked the question, I would answer, “the Statue of Liberty,” and he would shake his head, reminding me that she holds the torch in her right hand.

He was the Statue of Liberty. But why was he the Statue of Liberty? I can only speculate, really. No one in the family seems to know why he did it, and to my knowledge, Grandpa never did this to anyone else. It was unusual, but it was our “thing.” For some reason, it seemed important to him that I know about the Statue of Liberty.

Mom suggested recently that the Lady is an icon to my grandparents’ generation. He was a 1st Sergeant in the United States Army during the Second World War, and although I don’t remember any specific moments or conversations, I remember him (and Grandma) being very patriotic. Liberty, freedom, America meant something to him.

Maybe it was a symbol of that freedom he loved so dearly. Maybe he just enjoyed connecting with me about something so universal (Heaven knows we had little enough in common back then). I really don’t know. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful. I love having a memory of my Grandpa that belongs to me.

Unusual. It’s those unusual habits, those quirks, those mysterious details of our family members’ lives that endear them to us. Hold onto those memories.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

On 09/11/01, I was…

Sunday, September 11, 2011


On 09/11/01,  I was…

Has it been ten years? It seems a million years ago. It seems yesterday. Has it really been ten years?

Oelschlager.  Douglas, I think. Yes, Google confirms that it was Douglas. He was a man I’d never met. Doug was one of the heroes—one of the fireman who ran into the Towers on 9/11 and gave his life trying to save others. That is almost everything I know about him, except for the most important thing: He is remembered and loved. As I sit here trying to find words for this prompt, half-listening and watching the Ceremony at the World Trade Center Site, I just caught a brief half-glimpse of two children running their fingers in those letters etched in marble. Oelschlager. I don’t know who the kids are. I don’t know if they knew Doug, if they are his family or friends or the children of someone whose life was saved by Doug’s actions. I can only speculate. I only know—they are running their fingers in the letters of his name. Whether they intend or not, they are remembering Douglas Oelschlager.

They are only two kids. Others have filled other letters of other names with their own fingers and tears. Many are resting their hands on the names of loved ones lost. Some are kneeling and praying, placing white roses and American flags and photos on the names. And countless are making rubbings of the names on the Memorial using crayons and the master lists of those who died that day ten years ago. Each one is remembering someone.

We will never forget. Those were our words. That was America’s promise: We will never forget.

But sometimes I think we have forgotten. We remember the names and the faces, the images, the heroes, the victims. Do we remember the liberty?

Ten years ago, freedom was attacked by an enemy who couldn’t even look us in the eye with its challenge. America was founded upon the idea that a man could govern his own life, make his own decisions, and live with the consequences of those decisions. On September 11th, America remembered how precious, how costly, and how fragile that freedom is.

There will always be loss. There will always be sorrow. There will always be empty places in our hearts where loved ones belong. Knowing we will always face these things does nothing to assuage them. But even in the deepest despair, there is hope; even in the darkest night, there is a fading indigo into dawn; even when our grief is so heavy upon us for not making sense, there is a promise. There is freedom. There is hope.

Wherever you are, whatever you are facing, however your heart is breaking, dig your fingers deep down into the name of freedom. May there always be a letter deep enough for your rose stem. May there always be a crayon to rub a picture of the names on your heart. May there always be a place to rest your knees when you kneel to pray. May you always find an arm around you as you weep. May you always free an arm to hold others in their turn. May you know how very precious freedom is, and may you always defend her.

And may you never, never forget.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

My first job was…

Sunday, September 4, 2011

My first job was…

Our family was young when I took my first “job.” Mom was struggling to keep food on the table, and each of us (I think) found some way to help—whether it was working at a job or helping in the house or…whatever. We all contributed. That’s how a family works, right? Well, I took my first job when I was too young to know any better.

There is a local company that produces dairy products. I used to go there to sample the ice cream. Yeah. Well, one day Mom and I were there and they saw how adorable I was. Someone came out and asked if I’d like to star in an advertisement they were doing.

Are there red lights flashing in your head? Do you see a huge stop-sign in your mind? Yeah, me too…but at the time, it sounded fun. Dressing up in a cow outfit? What could be more fun? What could be more adorable? Are you kidding me? I was going to be a star.

The ad didn’t air for long—thank the good Lord!—and we didn’t tell anyone about it at the time. Not even my siblings. It was a bit humiliating, after all…my cute little round face poking out of a cow costume. Though…I always suspected my older siblings knew about it, due to a cow-type nickname they used to have for me (along with a song which Steven will be happy to teach you, I’m sure—though, I hope one of you will assure him that if he shares the song anywhere on the internet [and trust me, I’ll know if he does], those Parkay photos are going up. Everywhere.).

I digress. The agreement Mom entered into with the company was to forego any monetary compensation and pay us in a free year’s supply of milk. We totally scored. A family of seven growing kids? We drank a whole herd’s weight in milk that year, I’m sure.

So. That was my first job. That was my big contribution to the family. That…if you want to know the truth…is why I’ve always had a “thing” for cows—they provided for us when we needed it the most.

And that aint no bull.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah

My favorite teacher is…

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My favorite teacher is…

I know you’re expecting me to say that my English teachers were my favorites—and they were; or that Mrs. Porter was my favorite—and she was; or that Stephen Smith was my favorite—and he was; or that Vicki B. was my favorite—and she was; or that Mrs. Arnold was my favorite—and she still is. I have had several favorite teachers in the course of my life. It is an incredible blessing to have learned so much (not just curriculum) from so many of the teachers I’ve encountered on my life’s journey.

But today, I have to mention someone a little bit off-the-expected-road: Stephan Schoeman.

I don’t really believe in luck. I believe in blessings, and I believe in God ordaining things to come about in our lives, and I believe in His mercies in those split seconds when we realize how close we came to danger. But I think back on my time with Stephan, and even though I believe it was God’s plan for me to study under this great violinist in a rinky-dink place like Houghton (and how did such an extraordinary musician end up in Houghton, anyway?), I still think, “Wow, I was so lucky to be his student!”

Stephan was something of a big deal (though I had no idea back then; at the time, he was just Stephan to me). He was a violinist from South Africa with crazy, crazy hair. When my family moved to the Houghton area in late 1993, I was so disappointed to learn that there was no orchestra in the schools. I’d been playing viola for more than a year at that point, and I was doing well; I loved it. I don’t have a clue what it cost her at the time, but I know it must have been a huge sacrifice. Nonetheless, mom paid for me to take private lessons through Suzuki. And that’s how I met Stephan.

At the time, I was the only viola student in the organization. Stephan loved that, I think. He was an excellent teacher—not just in the basics, but in encouraging me to be strong and confident when I played. But the best thing about Stephan was that he didn’t seem to realize how awful I was in comparison to him. Every time we met for lessons, he played along with me, harmonizing and improvising on his violin (the only violin I’ve ever called “beautiful”).

Michael Card once said, “There are two kinds of geniuses. There are geniuses that you see perform and you tell yourself, ah, I could never do that. They sort of shut down your creativity. Then there are geniuses that you see that draw you in and fire you up to go and be creative and to write songs and to play.”

That’s how I felt about Stephan. Even though his skill far surpassed my own (in such enormous measure that I don’t even know a word that might describe the amount), Stephan engaged me where I was and made me feel like I was capable of playing alongside him.

Mom was telling me yesterday about affirmation. She said that it’s important for us to affirm people—not just to speak kindly to their greatness, but to speak kindly to their mediocrity and imperfections so that they will grow into greatness.

I’m so thankful that Stephan was there to encourage and affirm music in my life, even though I don’t even play the viola anymore. For that, he really was my favorite teacher.


All my love,

Aunt Sarah

My favorite subject in school is…

Sunday, August 21, 2011

My favorite subject in school is…

If you guessed that your Aunt Sarah’s favorite subject in school was English, you are right! It was a fairly obvious answer, wasn’t it? I love words.

It’s a strange obsession, but I can confess it freely: I really love words. It’s ironic, isn’t it, since I’m not usually talkative? But it’s true. I don’t know why, but I love, love, love words. I love looking for just the right word for a given sentence; I love writing about a word until I really have a grasp of what it means; I love the smell, the flow, the stain, the permanence of ink; I love paper (oh, Lord, I love paper!); I love writing, even if I have nothing to write.

Words are powerful. As the Proverb says, the tongue has the power of life and death. I think that includes the written word, also. Words can build, edify, and bring life. With words, you can convey your earnest hopes, your deepest fears, and your greatest ideas. You can encourage. You can speak the truth. You can persuade. You can give the gift of hope, of simply expressing to someone that you are there for them. Words are a blade that can cut through the disillusionment of our culture and bring clarity to those around us.

And much the converse, unfortunately, words are also a blade that can cut a person down. Words have the power to discourage, deflate, and destroy. Sometimes we are careless with our words (and I hope we can all offer each other grace for those moments), but I sincerely hope for each of my nieces and nephews that you will learn to bridle your tongue—to speak truth, hope, and life.

May your tongues and pens be filled with life;

          May you refuse all that would tear another down;

          May you, above all, speak (and write) the truth in love.

All my love,

Aunt Sarah